Category Archives: Notes from the Southwest Corner

Lessons from a POW

This was one of my very first columns for The Lebanon Democrat. It is special to me because the man i wrote about here is very special to me. i wrote it right after the bad San Diego wildfires in 2007. Dave remains a wonderful, actually amazing man, and i am proud to call him my friend. For some reason last night while watching the woeful San Diego Padres lose again, something Dave said to me popped into my brain. Something Dave said during our time together or wrote in his book keeps popping into my head. That’s a good thing. If i remember correctly, this pop up was how his North Vietnam interrogators kept wanting to know where they kept all the cows, pigs, and chickens to feed the crew on an aircraft carrier. Regardless, i wanted you, in case you missed it before, learn a little bit about an American hero. If you want to learn more about his story, his book, The Ways We Choose: Lessons For Life From a POW’s Experience is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and i believe you can still get one from his website, www.DaveCarey.com. If all else fails, contact me. We will get you one if you want it.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – This past Monday, I left the cleanup from the San Diego fires and flew to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. It was not an escape. It was work. I was co-facilitating a team building workshop for a California police department with my friend, Dave Carey.

Dave is not your ordinary business associate. On August 31, 1967, Dave Carey’s A-4 was shot out from under him over North Vietnam. He spent five and a half years as a Prisoner of War (POW), most of the time in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”

Dave and I met in 1985 at the Naval Amphibious School in Coronado. We worked together for just shy of a year as I transitioned into Dave’s position as the head of leadership training for the West Coast and Pacific Rim. Together, we help create a two-day workshop on leadership excellence for senior Navy officers.

Dave retired. Four years later in 1989, I followed suit. After my initial dive into my new job as Mister Mom, I soon started to look for ways to generate income in the quiet hours.

After some discussion, Dave and I agreed I would write a book about his POW experience, or more accurately, about his motivational speeches concerning his experience. After completing the draft, we decided it really should be written in first person. The original draft is on my office bookshelf.

Eight years later, Dave holed up for three weeks and completed The Ways We Choose: Lessons For Life From a POW’s Experience.

Part of my approach to writing was generated from conversations with Dave. He and I were driving to another workshop about fifteen years ago when I asked him about what outcome did he expect the audience to have when he gave a speech.

Dave said he had expectations initially, but discovered his listeners made their own connections. Early on, Dave had completed a luncheon speech when a huge Texan came up to him, put his big arm around Dave’s shoulder and drawled, “Can I talk with you, Dave? I understood every word you said today. The fact of the matter is, in this life, we are all going to get shot down, and some of us more than once.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve managed to get shot down several times. Dave’s book and his ideas have been significant guides to me as I have wandered through living. The book not only applies to San Diego, Lake Tahoe, and Middle Tennessee; it worked in the Hanoi over 40 years ago.

Dave’s book revolves around a question he is most frequently asked, which is, “How did you do that? How did you and the other POW’s get through that?” He maintains they did that in a similar way to how we get through our daily process of life and work.

Dave’s assessment of how he and his fellow POW’s made it through boils down to five factors:

  • We did what we had to do
  • We did our best
  • We chose to grow
  • We kept our sense of humor
  • We kept the faith
    • In ourselves
    • In each other
    • In our country
    • In God.

His anecdotes relating to those factors are humorous, inspiring, and thought provoking. I have had the wonderful opportunity to discuss these things in depth with Dave.

So I check myself against his factors almost daily. They have even become part of the value statements for my consulting group.

I will not ruin the book by parroting it here. However, I am particularly fond of Dave’s pointing out how the POW’s trusted each one of them would do the best they could, would resist the severe interrogations to their limit; recognizing each of them had their own limit levels.

I now try to consider folks I work with are doing the best they can do. This puts a whole different shape to the way I work with these people. Fewer rocks are thrown; fewer lines are drawn in the sand; fewer chips are put on shoulders.

I would encourage everyone to read’s Dave’s book. Your connections should be yours, not mine, not Dave’s. I know folks in Middle Tennessee also get shot down every once in a while.

i should note here that bit about my consulting group is no longer extant. i write. i used to drive ships. i gave up consulting when i got tired of trying to make people do the right thing. i still follow Dave’s advice.

Oh, the Places i Have Been

i wrote this column for The Lebanon Democrat in the summer of 2008. i still laugh when i think about the Subic Navy Base in the Philippines.

i laughed even harder when in a 1979, i watched the “Saturday Night Live” parody featuring John Belushi about a Navy recruiting commercial of those days. It started pretty much the same with inspiring music with the voice over stating “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” The SNL skit showed a Navy ship and then zoomed in with Belushi and other actors in Navy dungarees on their knees cleaning a head, working in a steaming laundry, and chipping paint.

Then the camera zoomed out and the announcer regally intoned as he did in the real Navy ad, “Join the Navy and see the world.” Returning to the ship, the announcer proclaimed the latest in exotic ports: “Bayonne, New Jersey.”

There was a lot of truth in the parody, but i beg to differ. Of course, i was an officer and not subject to the menial labor the enlisted had to endure. But it was an adventure, often an arduous one, but an adventure. And i did get to see the world. Somewhere, someplace, some time, i posted either my retirement speech or a summary of the part where i listed all of the places the Navy allowed me to visit. In short, i covered a lot of the world. i did not got to Northern Europe , around South America, or all the way to either pole. But i got pretty much everywhere else.

Of all of them, Subic was closest to “Fiddler’s Green,” the mythical paradise for seaman. It was wild. It was wooly. Often, it was dangerous. But boy, was it fun. The column didn’t tell all of the tales of Olongapo. It wouldn’t be well accepted in a a small town local newspaper. But here is my recollection from ten years ago:

My Friday arrival in Lebanon and events of the previous week have produced significant and insignificant problems requiring my attention. After dealing with these problems, I need to step away for a few moments. So I have chosen to revisit the far side of the Pacific.

My Navy career sent me to many places. My shipboard stops also allowed me to see foreign ports from a vantage most travelers never experience.

Over 14 years at sea, I discovered some special places for me. Many have changed beyond recognition, but others have maintained certain aspects which can take me back to those adventures at sea.

Subic Bay

Subic Bay, Philippines is not the same. This U.S. Navy port was home away from home for several generations of sailors. Our presence was established after World War II, leading to the 1956 commissioning of the base. In 1959, the Navy ceded some land back to the Philippines. The town of Olongapo was born.

It was a bawdy, wild, and inexpensive sailor’s liberty port. The stories are wilder than most folks can imagine, and from what I saw, they are probably true.

One of my favorite stories about Subic and Olongapo concern my father. In 1975, Jimmy Jewell flew from Lebanon to Honolulu, joining around thirty other family members of the USS Anchorage (LSD 36) crew on our return to San Diego.

After standing out of Pearl Harbor, I was the officer of the deck (OOD) for the evening watch (8:00 p.m. until midnight). My father stood most of the watch with me.

I took the time to recount my travels: the South Vietnam evacuation, port visits to Manila: Sasebo, Japan; Okinawa; Hong Kong; Taiwan; Korea; and Johnson Atoll, a nuclear test site in the South Pacific.

I described loading and off loading Marines and equipment as well as the zig-zag route Anchorage took from Pearl to Vietnam, backtracking due to changing commands and typhoon avoidance.

At some point, my father asked me which port did the sailors like the most. I pointed out the sailors not only liked Subic the most, they were upset their time there had been limited.

He asked why they preferred Subic. I then described what went on in the legendary liberty port.

The Mariposa

I told him of how I would watch the crazy antics from the Mariposa (butterfly), an open air restaurant on Magsaysay, Olongapo’s main road. We watched a ribald comedy in real time. A painted tray hung on the wall which declared restaurant rules: “No shoe shine boys, No vendors, No street hookers allowed inside.”

When I delicately told my father of the carrying-on’s in Olongapo, he shook his head and did not believe sailors could like the place.

Then over the course of the five-day transit, Jimmy Jewell went around the ship talking to the crew. He asked them what they liked and disliked about the deployment.

Five days later as we were preparing for entry into San Diego Bay, my father and I were talking again as I stood watch.

“Son, I couldn’t believe you could be right about the sailors loving Subic,” he said, “But they sure do.”

Europe versus the Far East

Constantly, my wife and I discuss where we should vacation. She has lobbied for Europe where she traveled through three summers in the 1970’s. Although I too have spent time in Europe and the Mediterranean, I argue we should travel to the Western Pacific.

We have been to Europe several times. We both love Ireland, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Barcelona. Eventually we want to visit Europe again.

In 1988, Maureen went on a business trip to Taipei, Taiwan and spent a day in Hong Kong. Her short stay convinced her the Western Pacific would be a good place to visit. Five years later, we spent a week in Hong Kong on a group trip she earned through business. Hong Kong was even better than either of us anticipated.

Now we both hope to go back and visit Japan (not Tokyo, but Kobe, Kyoto and the island of Kyushu), Hong Kong again, Singapore, and Taiwan.

I am glad Subic Bay is no longer a U.S. Navy Base. It has been turned into a tourist mecca for the Philippines. I am glad my wife is not interested in going there. I definitely don’t want to revisit, especially with my wife.

-30-

An Evening with a Code Talker

My good friend Jimmy Nokes in a recent email to the 1962 graduates of Lebanon High School noted the passing of a code talker:

Samuel Tom Holiday a member of WWll Code Talkers recently passes away shortly after his 94th birthday.  He was a Marine who served in the South Pacific and helped in  many battles. He was one of less than 10 who still survive.  He will be buried in The Navajo Nation next to his wife. 
This group of Americans should always be remembered for their dedication and service to “their country”. 
Just wanted to pass this on.

In 2008, one of my earlier “Notes from the Southwest Corner” weekly columns for the 
Lebanon Democrat discussed my meeting a code talker. i think the column pretty well covers it. It certainly was one of the most delightful and interesting evenings i’ve had in my life. the drawing leans against the wall behind my desk.


An Original Code Talker

SAN DIEGO – The Navy sent me many places I would have never seen otherwise. I have always been grateful. “Join the Navy and see the world” was not an empty slogan.

One of the most unlikely places I visited was the New Mexico and Arizona desert, a long way from San Diego, Middle Tennessee, and the ocean.

My thoughts turned to this abnormality when I read an article in The San Diego Union-Tribune this past week. Members of the Kumeyaay tribe in San Diego County are attempting to save their native language from extinction.

My travels to the Navajo Nation also had a connection to Native American language. The Navajo language did not need to be saved. To the contrary, their language contributed to the United States winning World War II in the Pacific.

In the spring of 1989, my command, the Naval Amphibious School in Coronado, asked me to chaperone a trip through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The tour group consisted of approximately 25 foreign senior officers who were attending an amphibious planning course. The public relations tour was a ten-day whirlwind trip through the Navajo reservation of Four Corners, the Navajo reservation; the Grand Canyon; Brian Head, Utah; and Las Vegas. The farewell dinner to the Navajos in Window Rock, AZ, the capital of the Navajo nation, was by far my best time on the tour.

The Navajo Veterans of Foreign Wars sponsored the dinner. The speaker was the embattled Navajo council vice-president, Peter McDonald, who was eventually forced out of office and sent to prison for fraud and corruption. My special time was not the dinner or the speaker.

Being a chaperone, I waited until the foreign officers and the VFW members had found seats. When the organizers discovered no seats were left for me. they set up a card table and said someone would join me. Soon, the picture of noble warrior came to my table, accompanied by a young lady. He introduced himself as Carl Gorman.

As the meal was being served, this craggy faced man, long white hair pulled back and tied in a pony tail, made me feel comfortable. He spoke with when pride introducing his daughter, Zonnie Gorman, who was working for Amtrak.

Gorman, a member of the Black Sheep clan of Navajos, was an original Code Talker in World War II. This group of 29 Navajo Marine recruits created the code for radio communications in the Pacific theater from their native tongue. The language was not written and the Japanese could never break the code.

The Code Talkers grew to around 400 and their contributions were kept secret until the Vietnam War. They were finally honored through a congressional act in 2000 and all received the Gold Medal authorized by that act.

Gorman was not just a Code Talker. He also was an artist known for his depictions of life in Four Corners and a protector of Navajo history, lore, and culture. His son, R.C. Gorman, is an artist of equal stature in Southwestern art.

Carl Gorman projected a regal bearing. He talked energetically of his heritage and the Code Talkers. His anger at the white man’s prejudice against his people and himself was fervent without malice.

As we talked, he took his pen and began drawing on a scrap of notebook paper.

I wondered why he was not at the head table. Gorman spoke of how the VFW had refused to take a stand against questionable practices. I discovered later he had left the organization because of his ethical stance. Yet he was still held in the highest regard by the other VFW members.

He passionately railed against alcoholism, which had become a severe problem on the reservation. He pointed to the VFW members, many of whom were drinking heavily.

The evening was one of the most educational of my life. I left awed by Carl Gorman, or Kin-yah-onny beyeh, the Son of Towering House People.

The drawing on the scrap paper was completed at the end of the dinner. It depicted Navajo warriors on horseback. It was simple but haunting. He gave it to me.

In 1998, Carl Gorman passed away in Gallup, NM, at the age of 90.

I hope the Kumayaay can successfully reclaim their native tongue. It is rooted in Yuman, the root of dialects of Native Americans from this Southwest corner to Arizona.

Mr. Gorman would be proud of their efforts.

-30-

i thought i had written of my meeting Mr. Gorman and included a scan of his drawing. i gave my copy of Gorman’s book to someone who never returned it. i need to get another copy. It was intriguing. The Code Talkers gave an incredible service beyond the call of duty to our country even as they were being mistreated in the worst possible way. Carl Gorman was above that, and i suspect all the Code Talkers were of that ilk. The passing of Mr. Holliday is another marker of the great generation of all the Americans regardless of race, creed, or color remains a bright spot in our history. It is sad to see them go. i am not optimistic we will have another generation like that one again.

A Grave Situation

One of my favorite stories about Lebanon. Oh the unbridled energy i had, digging graves and mowing until knockoff, running to get in my uniform to play fast pitch softball for Texas Boot Company or American Legion baseball and doing it all again for four days in a row with Friday night off. In the column, i omitted that Mr. Martin, i think John, was the manager of the water plant out by the river on Hunter’s Point Pike. i also erred in my time of employment. i worked at the water works for about three weeks and then went to Cedar Grove in 1958. This column ran in The Lebanon Democrat in the winter of 2010. The son of Mr. Bill sent me an email. i am looking unsuccessfully thus far, but when i find it, i will add that information about this column and this post. 

SAN DIEGO – A story by J.R. Lind about vandalism in a Cedar Forest cemetery ran last week in The Democrat. The vandal’s motive for digging into a grave was unclear.

I thought of the Mel Brook’s movie, “Young Frankenstein,” as Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman dug in the graveyard for the body to become “Frankenstein.” I e-mailed J.R., “They were looking for a brain.”

The story also brought memories.

In 1958, I started summer work with the City of Lebanon. After several early assignments, I worked at the water works on Hunter’s Point Pike with Truman Garrett and Elmer Elkins.

The following summer I hoped to drive a bush hog tractor but was told I was too small. My big friends, Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, and others were assigned the bush hogs. With a twist of logic I did not grasp, I went to Cedar Grove Cemetery.

In that era, digging graves was accomplished by hand. When not digging graves, mowing and trimming the 35 acres was the bulk of our work. The two permanent workers, “Mister Bill” and “Dub” (I apologize for not knowing their last names. I’m not sure I ever did) took me under wing. They were pleasant, interesting, and fun.

Mr. Mitchell “Bush” Babb, the manager, lived adjacent to the cemetery. He reputedly was the only one who knew the grave locations after a fire destroyed some cemetery records. I was impressed Mr. Babb. had played against Ty Cobb in the Tennessee-Alabama League before the Georgia Peach went on to fame in the majors.

Once I got over my queasiness, I found the cemetery interesting. I studied grave markers, especially the older ones.

The Mitchell-Smith monument was impressive. My father had told me about the huge granite slab’s (roughly four by six by eight feet) trip to its final resting spot. He was “seven or eight” when the monument arrived at the train depot where Shenandoah Mills now stands. He snuck away to watch part of the two-week process. After offloading from the flatbed, the monument was set on four wooden logs, roughly a foot square. The logs were slicked with “octagon” soap. The four horses or mules pulled the monument forward while the workers rotated the logs from back to front.

There were many other interesting stories I gathered from the markers.

Sonny Smithson, a seminary student at David Lipscomb joined me the next summer. His father was the preacher at the College Street Church of Christ when it was actually located on the corner of College Street and Gay Street. Ironically, the original city cemetery was located there and until the interred were relocated to Cedar Grove when it opened in 1846.

In 1962, our last summer, Sonny and I became efficient in cemetery work and learned about graves “sinking.” Some sunk immediately after the burial due to the dirt compacting. Others sunk later when the natural decay set in, especially in the older graves, some suddenly when an air pocket collapsed. We tread over the grounds without temerity.

One June day, Mr. Bill sent us to clear out an area in the northwest corner. As normal, we had gathered for the day’s work at the small stone building in the opposite corner..

With “lively lads” on our shoulders, we trekked across the cemetery on the shortest route: pretty much a straight line, walking over graves with no concern. I was in the lead. Just after I walked over a grave (we later determined the grave was created in 1923), I turned to say something to Sonny. As he stepped on the middle of the grave, one of those air pockets took the opportune moment to collapse. Sonny went down into the depression about two feet and turned ashen through a Tennessee summer tan. He cleared what seemed to be about six feet straight up. Before he hit the ground, we realized what had happened. But for a split second, graveyard ghost stories came rushing back to both of us.

Sonny left work early that summer to go back to the seminary. I am sure it had nothing to do with the sinking grave incident. I worked through the rest of the summer.

Now when I have to submit a resume or biographical summary, I include “gravedigger” as part of my experience. It has proven to separate me from the pack, and I always know when someone has read my input in its entirety.

Football, a Legacy Gone South

i’ve been posting all sorts of stuff about all sorts of things here on this website for some time now. That is me enjoying me, but i kept feeling like i was missing something that once was here. In case you haven’t noticed, i love to write. Consequently, i can just go bananas and forget some things i meant to always be a part of this column, like an extension of writing “Notes from the Southwest Corner” as a weekly column for The Lebanon Democrat just shy of ten years.

Then for the last several days, Tick Bryan’s post on the “If You Grew Up in Lebanon, You Remember…” of the Tastee  Freeze shop made me realize what has been missing here: memories of Lebanon, Tennessee.

An integral part of my memories, was, of course, four years at Castle Heights. Although i did okay in Academics and so-so in the military side (ironic, isn’t it?), my focus was on sports. Sports dominated my thoughts (okay, okay, girls were pretty high in those thoughts as well) from when i can remember until i realized i wasn’t going to play any sport at the intercollegiate level. Football was my driver. The below is a column, i wrote for The Democrat in 2008 about those memories about football and Lebanon.

Football, a Legacy Gone South

SAN DIEGO – On my second birthday, after my father returned from the war, my uncle, Alvin “Snooks” Hall, gave me a football. In my mother’s albums, there is a snapshot of me at four in my cowboy hat standing beside a little red wagon. In the middle of the wagon bed is the football.

Even though I played other sports, football was my passion. I played imaginary games in the yard. On Saturdays, I could hear the Castle Heights announcer calling the Saturday afternoon games. I was Doak Walker, the Heisman award winner from Southern Methodist University; the triple threat star Bob Waterfield of the Los Angeles Rams, who was also married to Jane Russell (my aspirations were high); and Bobby Lane, the feisty quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

My father took me to the Lebanon High games at the juncture of Fairfield Avenue, South Greenwood Street, and East High Street, urging me to scream the entire game.

We would watch the Sunday games on the black and white television. Red Grange, the “Galloping Ghost.” announced the games. On the radio, I listened to the Commodores and the Vols as well as the Tennessee Tech and Middle Tennessee Thanksgiving games. Occasionally, we would go to Nashville and watch Vanderbilt play at Dudley Field.

At Lebanon Junior High, I played two years with one loss in 16 games. It was my acme in football. but I continued to play with some notoriety as “Mighty Mouse” at Castle Heights (Mike Dixon, The Cavalier sports editor gave me that moniker) while my friends were having the Blue Devil magic undefeated season in 1961.

As a junior, five-six, 135 pounds, I incongruously played blocking back and linebacker. We traveled to Baylor, just outside of Chattanooga for an afternoon game. My aunt and uncle, who lived there, arrived at half-time. I suspect Coach Jimmy Allen saw them waving to me. Regardless, I was sent in on defense in the third quarter.

A signal from the sidelines directed us from our normal “6-2” defense into a “7-1” alignment, seven down linemen and one linebacker. Using the same reasoning which got me in trouble most of my life, I volunteered and stepped into a defensive guard position.

I split their right guard and tackle. Both were all-conference for two years. The guard weighed 240 pounds, the tackle topped off at 265.

I think I saw the quarterback licking his lips. As he called an audible, I rationally concluded they were going to run straight at me, deciding my only chance was to “submarine.” That meant I would dive low and hopefully split through the two mammoths in front of me.

Good idea. Unfortunately, the two giants in front of me also figured that out. They double- flopped on me, trapping me under more than 500 pounds of flesh and gear. I was spread eagle on the ground.

I squirmed and waved my arms as much as I could to breathe and to get the lummoxes off.

The halfback cut next to the massive pile with this puny linebacker underneath. As he cut, he tripped over my frantically waving left hand, falling forward for a one-yard gain.

As I retreated to the sideline, teammates pounded me on the back. Reaching the sideline, Coach Frank North rubbed my helmet. I could see my aunt and uncle smiling and cheering.

I thought, “If they only knew…but I won’t tell them.”

Yesterday, the San Diego Chargers played the Indianapolis Colts. As I write, the game has yet to be played. Amidst the hoopla, gauntlet of commercials, and incessant inane analysis, there will be some good football played.

The playoff game was in a dome, filled with fanatic, costumed crazies whooping as much to get on camera as to root for their team. The majority of the players far outweighed the two behemoths who flattened me 47 years ago. There will be more coaches and staff for each team than the players we had on the 1960 Tigers. The game was played in mid-January.

I will think how much more fun it was to get crunched by offensive linemen on a  perfect autumn afternoon with a sparse crowd in Tennessee than it will have been watching the NFL extravaganza.

Of course, I will watch. Somewhere in the course of the game, I will think, “If they only knew…but I won’t tell them.”

A Grave Situation

This is my Democrat column i mentioned in my previous post from 2008.

SAN DIEGO – A story by J.R. Lind about vandalism in a Cedar Forest cemetery ran last week in The Democrat. The vandal’s motive for digging into a grave was unclear.

I thought of the Mel Brook’s movie, “Young Frankenstein,” as Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman dug in the graveyard for the body to become “Frankenstein.” I e-mailed J.R., “They were looking for a brain.”

The story also brought memories.

In 1958, I started summer work with the City of Lebanon. After several early assignments, I worked at the water works on Hunter’s Point Pike with Truman Garrett and Elmer Elkins.

The following summer I hoped to drive a bush hog tractor but was told I was too small. My big friends, Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, and others were assigned the bush hogs. With a twist of logic I did not grasp, I went to work at Cedar Grove Cemetery digging graves. A small guy’s work?

In that era, digging graves was accomplished by hand. When not digging graves, mowing and trimming the 35 acres was the bulk of our work. The two permanent workers, “Mister Bill” and “Dub” (I apologize for not knowing their last names. I’m not sure I ever did) took me under wing. They were pleasant, interesting, and fun.

Mr. Mitchell “Bush” Babb, the manager, lived adjacent to the cemetery. He reputedly was the only one who knew the grave locations after a fire destroyed some cemetery records. I was impressed Mr. Babb. had played against Ty Cobb in the Tennessee-Alabama League before the Georgia Peach went on to fame in the majors.

Once I got over my queasiness, I found the cemetery interesting. I studied grave markers, especially the older ones.

The Mitchell-Smith monument was impressive. My father had told me about the huge granite slab’s (roughly four by six by eight feet) trip to its final resting spot. He was “seven or eight” when the monument arrived at the train depot where Shenandoah Mills now stands. He snuck away to watch part of the two-week process. After offloading from the flatbed, the monument was set on four wooden logs, roughly a foot square. The logs were slicked with “octagon” soap. The four horses or mules pulled the monument forward while the workers rotated the logs from back to front.

There were many other interesting stories I gathered from the markers.

Sonny Smithson, a seminary student at David Lipscomb joined me the next summer. His father was the preacher at the College Street Church of Christ when it was actually located on the corner of College Street and Gay Street. Ironically, the original city cemetery was located there and until the interred were relocated to Cedar Grove when it opened in 1846.

In 1962, our last summer, Sonny and I became efficient in cemetery work and learned about graves “sinking.” Some sunk immediately after the burial due to the dirt compacting. Others sunk later when the natural decay set in, especially in the older graves, some suddenly when an air pocket collapsed. We tread over the grounds without temerity.

One June day, Mr. Bill sent us to clear out an area in the northwest corner. As normal, we had gathered for the day’s work at the small stone building in the opposite corner..

With “lively lads” on our shoulders, we trekked across the cemetery on the shortest route: pretty much a straight line, walking over graves with no concern. I was in the lead. Just after I walked over a grave (we later determined the grave was created in 1923), I turned to say something to Sonny. As he stepped on the middle of the grave, one of those air pockets took the opportune moment to collapse. Sonny went down into the depression about two feet and turned ashen through a Tennessee summer tan. He cleared what seemed to be about six feet straight up. Before he hit the ground, we realized what had happened. But for a split second, graveyard ghost stories came rushing back to both of us.

Sonny left work early that summer to go back to the seminary. I am sure it had nothing to do with the sinking grave incident. I worked through the rest of the summer.

Now when I have to submit a resume or biographical summary, I include “gravedigger” as part of my experience. It has proven to separate me from the pack, and I always know when someone has read my input in its entirety.

A Hairy Tale, Part I

One of my first columns for The Democrat in 2007. Alberto’s is still there but it is now run by his son. Alberto has retired. And i bought a $24 electric razor and cut my own hair. There is not enough to spend money on cutting what’s left. So no i miss those barbershops.

SAN DIEGO, CA – When I started writing for The Democrat, I planned to write from ideas saved over the years with a focus on connecting and comparing my Southwest corner to Middle Tennessee.

Then events seem to keep popping up, demanding I write about them. This week, nothing has interrupted my original intentions.

Barber shops are an interesting study of human nature. I am not referring to the franchise stores but the locally owned shops which have been existence since the barber gave up doing dental work out here when the West was young and dentists were in short supply.

For about a dozen years after I moved to this neck of the woods south of San Diego, I got my hair cut at Alberto’s, located in a strip mall across from Southwest College on a mesa, about four miles from the Mexican border as the crow flies.

In many ways, Alberto’s reminds me of the Modern Barber Shop where I received my first haircut just off the square on West Main Street in Lebanon. Growing up, my haircuts were mostly administered by “Pop” at the Modern Barber Shop and later his own place in the Dick’s Food Mart mall.

As I moved into my teenage years, my father and I went to Edwards Barber Shop, located across from the end of University Avenue on South Maple. It was a one-chair shop.

Alberto’s looks very similar to both and even smells the same, a pleasant, somewhat musty aroma. There is a clock running backwards so it will read correctly if you are looking at it through the mirrors back of the chairs. It would have fit in the Modern Barber Shop, Pop’s, or Edward’s.

I first started going to Alberto’s in the mid-1980’s after spotting John Sweatt in a chair. John was commissioned as a Navy officer about three or four years before me. He had been a strong supporter for me on the Castle Heights football team when he was a senior and I was a sophomore. Later, he gave me some hope I might actually complete Navy Officer Candidate School when he visited me in my barracks, resplendent and fearful (to my senior officer candidate tormentors) in his lieutenant junior grade (LTJG) dress blues.

I decided Alberto’s would be good for me as well.

Alberto is a small man with salt and pepper hair and a thin, neatly trimmed mustache. Although his five children are spread from Alaska to San Diego, he still lives in Tijuana and remains a Mexican citizen. His English and my Southern don’t always mix well, but we communicate adequately. He always cuts my hair the way I ask and trims my mustache at no charge.

Alberto reminds me of Pop, although I probably would have been banned from the city limits had I tried to grow a mustache in Lebanon in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The strongest tie is not their barber skills. Alberto’s ethics growing up in a middle class Mexican neighborhood are very much akin to Pop’s. Giving a great service for a reasonable price; they were proud of their work, enjoyed their customers; and in turn, their customers enjoyed them.

Bob is the second in command at Alberto’s. He knows everyone by name. Curiously, Bob always looked like he needs a haircut with a long, untamed mane.

Still he gave me one of my favorite barber shop stories:

A couple of years ago, a recently retired man came into the shop while I was waiting.

Bob stated, rather than asked, “Been retired about six months, haven’t you, George?”

George affirmed and Bob followed, “How’s it going at home with you and the little lady?”

George replied “It’s going great.”

“You and your missus don’t get in each other’s way?” Bob prodded.

George, pleased with himself, turned eloquent, “Nah, she’s very precise and keeps a weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

“So on Sunday, I check her calendar. When she is scheduled to be out, I stay at home and work on my projects.

“Then when she is scheduled to be at home, I go play golf.

“It’s working just fine.”

When this occurred, I thought, “At the core, there is not much difference between barber shops in the Southwest corner and in Middle Tennessee.”

And there is an unlimited supply of barbershop stories in both places.

Lessons from a POW

My third column for The Lebanon Democrat was in late October or early November 2007 (i’m too lazy to look it up right now). This also serves as a salute to one of my heroes, although i may add to this one later. He is not only a hero for whom i have utmost respect, he is a good friend.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – This past Monday, I left the cleanup from the San Diego fires and flew to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. It was not an escape. It was work. I was co-facilitating a team building workshop for a California police department with my friend, Dave Carey.

Dave is not your ordinary business associate. On August 31, 1967, Dave Carey’s A-4 was shot out from under him over North Vietnam. He spent five and a half years as a Prisoner of War (POW), most of the time in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”

Dave and I met in 1985 at the Naval Amphibious School in Coronado. We worked together for just shy of a year as I transitioned into Dave’s position as the head of leadership training for the West Coast and Pacific Rim. Together, we help create a two-day workshop on leadership excellence for senior Navy officers.

Dave retired. Four years later in 1989, I followed suit. After my initial dive into my new job as Mister Mom, I soon started to look for ways to generate income in the quiet hours.

After some discussion, Dave and I agreed I would write a book about his POW experience, or more accurately, about his motivational speeches concerning his experience. After completing the draft, we decided it really should be written in first person. The original draft is on my office bookshelf.

Eight years later, Dave holed up for three weeks and completed The Ways We Choose: Lessons For Life From a POW’s Experience.

Part of my approach to writing was generated from conversations with Dave. He and I were driving to another workshop about fifteen years ago when I asked him about what outcome did he expect the audience to have when he gave a speech.

Dave said he had expectations initially, but discovered his listeners made their own connections. Early on, Dave had completed a luncheon speech when a huge Texan came up to him, put his big arm around Dave’s shoulder and drawled, “Can I talk with you, Dave? I understood every word you said today. The fact of the matter is, in this life, we are all going to get shot down, and some of us more than once.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve managed to get shot down several times. Dave’s book and his ideas have been significant guides to me as I have wandered through living and getting shot down. The book not only applies to San Diego, Lake Tahoe, and Middle Tennessee; it worked in the Hanoi Hilton over 40 years ago.

Dave’s book revolves around a question he is most frequently asked, which is, “How did you do that? How did you and the other POW’s get through that?” He maintains they did that in a similar way to how we get through our daily process of life and work.

Dave’s assessment of how he and his fellow POW’s made it through boils down to five factors:

  • We did what we had to do
  • We did our best
  • We chose to grow
  • We kept our sense of humor
  • We kept the faith
    • In ourselves
    • In each other
    • In our country
    • In God.

His anecdotes relating to those factors are humorous, inspiring, and thought provoking. I have had the wonderful opportunity to discuss these things in depth with Dave.

So I check myself against his factors almost daily. They have even become part of the value statements for my consulting group.

I will not ruin the book by parroting it here. However, I am particularly fond of Dave’s pointing out how the POW’s trusted each one of them would do the best they could, would resist the severe interrogations to their limit; recognizing each of them had their own limit levels.

I now try to consider folks I work with are doing the best they can do. This puts a whole different shape to the way I work with these people. Fewer rocks are thrown; fewer lines are drawn in the sand; fewer chips are put on shoulders.

I would encourage everyone to read’s Dave’s book. Your connections should be yours, not mine, not Dave’s. I know folks in Middle Tennessee also get shot down every once in a while.

Note: Dave’s book can be obtained on-line through the Amazon.com and Dave’s website, www.davecarey.com. A glimpse of what Dave delivers to us and how he provides us a chance to choose is in the video in the link below. It is not the entire captivating and moving speech (after all, Dave is a “motivational speaker,” and i don’t think Dave ever took a back seat to anyone in any endeavor he has undertaken), but it gives me a sense of what he is about, and i have been choosing to make my life “the best of times” ever since i met him eighteen years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Xinjxlw5DQ

There are a series of four videos of Dave’s story in his own words if you would like to hear and watch him tell his story. i will provide them if you let me know you would like them.

Thanks, Dave. 

Whatever It Is, It Ain’t Baseball

As early as my third Democrat column over ten years ago, i began my public rants about professional sports.

i remain torn.

i have loved sports, including professional sports, since as long as i can remember. With joy i remember Charlie Trippi of the Chicago Cardinals (yes, that’s right, you youngsters. The football Cardinals were in Chicago with George Halas’ Bears, then moved to St. Louis and then to Arizona) breaking into the clear on the black and white screen when a defensive back dove at him to make a shoestring tackle and Charlie (back when the pro rules said “down” meant you were stopped from moving forward) does a summersault and continues running for the touchdown. And i remember Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Bob Waterfield of the Los Angeles Rams; Bobby Lane of the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers who is reputed to have played several games sober or without a hangover; Dick “Night Train” Lane who not only was a superb defensive back for those Chicago Cardinals and then the Detroit Lions but won my heart when he married Dinah Washington, one of my all time favorite singers even though the marriage lasted less than a year; even Red Grange as the play by play and analyst for the television game, and Lou Groza, the Cleveland Browns tackle who also kicked field goals with Otto Graham and Jim Brown and on and on and on; and then Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron, Pee Wee Reese, and of course, Smoky Burgess, Nellie Fox, Roberto Clemente (the best right fielder who ever played the game), Don Hoak, Bill Mazeroski, Dick “Dr. Strange Glove” Stuart, Harvey Haddix, Elroy Face and his fork ball — notice how this list is heavily slanted with old Pittsburgh Pirate players — and on and on and on.

Now, my season tickets are long gone. i am still a Padre fan and watch most of their games on television but rarely go to a game. On of the games i attended with Maureen, parking, three beers, one water, two hot dogs, and one bag of peanuts cost over $70. We were guests of neighbors and didn’t pay for the $70 worth of tickets.

i love sports of all kinds, but the commercialism and outrageous money being made at the expense of fans is totally out of kilter and i rant too much about it if i keep watching it and i will keep watching and hope i can muffle my outrage just to enjoy it, but won’t, so this is my first public declaration of rantsville:

SAN DIEGO, CA – Mercifully, the World Series is over.

Admittedly, this former sports editor did check the scores as the games progressed, but I didn’t watch. I chuckled occasionally thinking of what Fred Russell, the dean of Southern sports writers would have thought of what should be called “money ball,” which is not the strategy for obtaining players made famous by Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics.

The games were delayed and played at night for prime time television coverage. The Colorado Rockies had to wait eight days while the Boston Red Sox toyed in the American League playoffs.

In the halcyon days of post World War II, the major leagues were far, far away, only something to dream and imagine as a boy in Middle Tennessee.

We might have seen major leaguers going up or down when we made a trip to Sulphur Dell in Nashville to watch the original “Vols” play Double A ball against the Memphis Chicks, Chattanooga Lookouts, New Orleans Pelicans, Birmingham Barons, Little Rock Travelers, Mobile Bears, and Atlanta Crackers.

The World Series was time for the Yankees to dominate, usually against the Dodgers. After television crept into our consciousness, my father and I would watch the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean on Saturdays and the World Series. Then, my father was a Yankee friend. I rooted for the Dodgers. He won.

We played baseball from March to September and watched the Series the first days of October. When we couldn’t get to a real diamond, we played on lots. When lots weren’t available, we played in backyards. If space was a problem, we played “whiffle ball” and stick ball.

As I recall, the first youth league in Lebanon was the Pony League. We played on the McClain Elementary School playground diamond. At nine while riding my bike to a game, I ran off the sidewalk, took a header and knocked out half of one front tooth. The next year the Pony League was replaced by Little League. I don’t think my tooth had anything to do with it.

What I saw of this year’s series bore little resemblance to baseball back then. Many players looked more like they played in a softball beer league than the majors. Mickey Mantle, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente played hard but dressed to perfection.  There were the extremists who were sleeveless like Rocky Colavito, but they were considered on the fringe in terms of the dress code. This year’s players looked like they were about to lose their pants.

Falstaff’s Game of the Week has evolved into overpaid super stars playing a modified game for the new version of gossip mongers, the sports fan of the twenty-first century.

Bowie Kuhn, who passed away in March of this year, tried to fool us by not wearing an overcoat in the freezing weather of night games of the World Series when he was commissioner. Perhaps Bowie was the turning point. Professional baseball evolved from sport to entertainment.

The loved and hated Yankees have been replaced by the Red Sox. Deep pockets rule. Strangely, Larry Luchinno, the Bosox president, came from San Diego where he championed frugality and attacked the Yankees for buying pennants. He even called the Yanks the “Evil Empire.” Now, if not the “Evil Empire,” the Red Sox are the baseball equivalent of Saruman, the second level evil in The Lord of the Rings.

Now there are two different games. One league has pitchers who don’t bat and “designated hitters who don’t play defense. So two different games are played in the series, depending on which team is host.

Fred Russell would be sad but find some way to express the irony with humor.

And Mr. Bush Babb, the overseer at the Cedar Grove Cemetery who played against Ty Cobb in the first Southern League before the irascible Georgia Peach made his name with the Detroit Tigers, would be aghast.

I must confess I am a contributor to this silly game of entertainment. Out here in the Southwest corner, I am a season ticket holder for the Padre games at Petco Park.

I often try to conjure up Sulphur Dell when I take my seat. San Diego is a long, long way from Nashville, and professional baseball is not the same. Baseball as I knew it is much like the home run Dick Shively would announce on the Vols’ radio network, “It’s going, going, gone.”

Taking a break

The below is my second column for The Lebanon Democrat. i had written an article or two for them when the big wildfires hit San Diego just over ten years ago, which led to the column gig. We were never really in danger, but we opted for caution (and me not having to deal with two very concerned females, my wife and my younger daughter, for a whole night, maybe longer) and drove over to our friends’ house on Coronado. Again, Peter and Nancy Toennies were our port in a storm, so to speak. Although there was no imminent danger, to leave one’s home taking items you deem the most important, can have an significant impact on how you think about life. i did need a break.

i should add there will be several additional columns about hair. If you have seen me lately, you will know this topic is pretty much OBE for me. About five years ago, i gave up. i am essentially bald; hair is gone. So i bought an electric razor, put in a number two guide, and cut what’s left of my hair about once a month. i am considering going to just the razor without the guide. That way, i figure i can make a razor job last at least six weeks, maybe two months. i will not shave my head. That is work. It also, as every vain man who does shave his head each day  has proven it is a waste of time. They still look as dumb as i do, if not dumber.

But the hair stories will show up later. This is a break.

SAN DIEGO, CA – I need a break.

Often when my wife recognizes I need a break, she sends me back to Middle Tennessee to visit family and friends.

Right now, all three of us need a break. Although we personally escaped from the blazes, we have friends who have lost homes and had their lives altered forever. We are considering taking in one of the newly homeless families until they get their feet on the ground. Our daughter is looking for ways to volunteer to help other evacuees.

The devastation and the impact here is mind boggling. Fortunately, the only thing to keep this past week in Southern California from being worse than Katrina is the number of deaths. The fires desolated over 750 square miles. More than half a million people were evacuated. In San Diego alone, over 1400 homes were destroyed. On a local talk and news radio station today, the chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric revealed we were literally seconds away from cutting power to large numbers of residents during the middle of the crisis.

Yet at this writing, only seven people have died from the fires.

Returning from our own voluntary evacuation, we must sort what we packed willy-nilly and then place them back from whence they came. We must clean up an incredible amount of ash on and in the home, inside and out, without the benefit of water, blowers, or vacuums (this is from a call to conserve water and energy). The fires have put us behind in our usual tasks and added significantly to the list.

My taking a trip back home for a break is not an option.

So I am taking a break with this column.

I started writing this about a week ago. It was from old notes comparing the Modern Barber Shop and Pop’s Barber Shop of my youth to one I have frequented out here named Alberto’s Barber Shop. While writing, I expanded the idea into some good stories about barber shops.

Today, my break is to indulge in these two stories: your break and mine. I will discuss the barber shops themselves at another time.

The first is a true story which I witnessed in Alberto’s. While I was waiting for a haircut, a man who recently had retired came in. Bob, one of the barbers, stated rather than asked, “Been retired about six months, haven’t you, John.”

John affirmed and Bob followed, “How’s it going at home with you and the little lady?”

John replied “It’s going great.”

“You and your missus don’t get in each other’s way?” Bob prodded.

John, obviously pleased with himself, turned eloquent, “Nah, she’s very precise and keeps a weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

“So on Sunday, I check her calendar. When she is scheduled to be out, I stay at home and work on my projects.

“Then when she is scheduled to be at home, I go play golf.

“It’s working just fine.”

One of my favorite stories has taken on many variations as Polish jokes become Texas Aggie jokes, and so on. My version is about a barber in a small town in Middle Tennessee. A sailor was en route to his new duty station when he stopped for a haircut.

When finished, he asked the barber what he owed. The barber told the sailor it was free because of the service the sailor was giving to the country. The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop, he found a six pack of beer and a note of thanks from the sailor.

About a week later, a Navy Chief Petty Officer came by, also while en route to his new duty station. The chief also received a free haircut. The next morning, the barber found a bottle of Jack Daniels and a thank-you note.

Several weeks later, a Navy lieutenant showed up with the same result. The next morning gift was a bottle of a fine French Bordeaux.

Finally, about a month later, an admiral shows up. After giving another free haircut, the barber was excited about what he would find on his doorstep. The next morning he hurried to the shop and there on the door step were a dozen admirals waiting in line.

My break is over. It is good to laugh, even when things are tough. I hope you enjoyed the break.